XP meets XO: Will Linux get an equal shot?

XP meets XO: Will Linux get an equal shot?

Summary: Updated: The One Laptop Per Child program will put XP on its XO laptop and children in the developing world will have a choice between Windows and Linux.On the surface, a little choice isn't going to kill anybody.


Updated: The One Laptop Per Child program will put XP on its XO laptop and children in the developing world will have a choice between Windows and Linux.

On the surface, a little choice isn't going to kill anybody. In fact, choice is good. And if some poor kids can get a laptop, learn a bit and be exposed to the world I don't care about the operating system.

But here's what gives me pause about XP coming to the XO (statement, Techmeme): There's no way Linux will get an equal shake on OLPC's XO. In fact, I reckon that more XO units will ship with XP than Linux in the not too distant future. Why? Governments are making the buying decisions. Not kids.

As Mary Jo Foley reports XOs will go with either Linux or Windows based on the preference of governments. Quoting an OLPC spokeswoman, Mary Jo reports:

"Laptops will be installed with one of two operating systems - Microsoft Windows OR Linux-based Sugar OS at the factory, based on the preference of governments and NGOs. In the case of these trials, the XOs will ship with Windows. In addition to these choices, in the future OLPC intends to develop ... the ability to have both on the same machine."

How quickly will the OLPC (all resources) have both on one machine? Probably not quickly.

The big question: What OS would the kids choose? I'd argue that the Linux interface would win. I've seen my own daughter navigate the XO Linux operating system even though I couldn't. Kids just get it. Let's compare and contrast:

Microsoft's opening screen:


The XO opener:

My daughter went from that opening "X" to drawing and goofing around in seconds. The XP screen is colorful, but a child that has never seen a laptop before is going to look at those icons and be instantly overwhelmed. My daughter could figure out XP too, but that's because our home computer has it. Nevertheless, I'd have to explain the start menu and direct her to her shortcuts. If she had no previous exposure to the Linux OS or XP she'd gravitate to the Linux XO interface all things being equal.

You have to assume that a child has never had a computer before and Windows doesn't play to that market. Perhaps Microsoft simplifies XP's interface down to four icons, but it's doubtful. There's a lot of inertia to overcome--the parents and governments know Windows--to even give Linux a fair shake.

The big takeaway: The kids actually getting these XOs won't be making the OS call--at least not initially.

Update: Walter Bender, former president of software and content at OLPC, is helping to launch Sugar Labs, which will take the XO Linux OS and continue the mission on other platforms. This move does two things: First, it solidifies that the OLPC project will most likely stick with XP. And second, Sugar Labs may wind up on the eeePC from Asus. Here's the Sugar Labs announcement and Xconomy's take.

More reading:

Topics: Windows, Laptops, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Who are we kidding?

    Windows will slowly but surely edge out Linux in this market. Let us not kid ourselves here.

    Can you imagine a Linux person developing applications for the kids. There is no challenge there - developing applications for 3rd world children is something that most Linux developers won't take up.

    Spelling tools, Interactive History, Learn your numbers - these are applications that need people who are creative and it is much more likely that we will see these on the Windows platform. Frankly I don't see myself wanting to write kiddy programs either.
    • Challenging Technical Programs.

      If the OLPC were to made capable of accessing some centralized server from where lessons (created and maintained by others) could be fetched in an optimal, efficient way ;-) then you'd have a whole bunch of open-source programmers, jumping to the challenge.

      Most won't even take up the job of writing something like Balloon Speller, or Piano lessons 1-2-3. :) I do hope I am wrong here .. and would love to see something like Mint or Fedora on the OLPC, with a complementary suite of kiddy applications
      • Curious about this line of thinking

        So are you saying that the open source community won't be interested in developing these kiddie programs because there's no glory, no incentive or no creativity. Interesting argument just trying to boil down what you're saying.

        Your argument seems to be that Microsoft is better suited to developing this than a community of open sourcers.
        Larry Dignan
        • Not now

          There are many brilliant people who worked really hard to come up with the Sugar interface. (by all accounts very intuitive for children) There is no doubt that the FOSS community can continue to create great educational apps for kids.

          However they won't now via OLPC. The people who worked hard on sugar surely must now question the wisdom of putting their efforts into this project just to see people like Negroponte and companies like MS negate their efforts for the sake of protecting monopoly profits.

          No the community would much rather put their efforts into projects which will actually reach and benefit the people.

          The glaring difference here is that the FOSS coders on OLPC care about the kids whereas MS only cares about the money and would clearly disadvantage those kids to protect their revenue streams.
          Tim Patterson
          • Good points

            So the argument that the open source community won't develop for OLPC has little to do with the actual producing stuff for kids and all the politics and BS about the way this Negroponte-Microsoft dance went down.

            Thanks for the insight.
            Larry Dignan
          • No Larry

            I have no doubt that the FOSS community will continue to work on software for the education of kids.

            They would however be foolish to do so via OLPC.

            Imagine Larry, that you worked really hard to develop software to help kids and a powerful interest came in and made sure that the product of all of your hard work will never reach it's intended audience and that members of the group you were working with were instrumental in creating this situation.

            Would you still continue to put your efforts into this organization knowing they would be for naught?
            Tim Patterson
          • Not really...

            While the BS and politics will affect some developers both open and closed source for those who write educational software I don't think it's a tripping point.

            Some will depend on if the Linux/Sugar combination does get a fair shake now that there is a choice. Open or closed source development tends to follow the available market.

            While I also agree that a lot of initial effort will go towards development on the EEPC and other ULPCs for Linux I also don't see developers backing off on Windows either.

            Certainly with the advent of KDE 4.x a developer can create a program/courseware that looks and feels exactly the same on XP as it does on Linux. They could even recreate the simplicity of the opening screen on Sugar if they wanted to and that was effective.

            It does developers no good to play first world "my OS is better than your OS" games with this kind of effort. Nor does having a conniption fit over having to develop for another OS that they don't usually use.

            That does NOT remember the children here. Though should the do that it's questionable who the children really are.


          • Well, I do not see so much doom and gloom. For Microsoft, supporting the

            OLPC is a double edged sword. It will legitimize low cost laptops and get the volumes up enough to further reduct prices. But, low cost laptops are very bad for MS margins, and Linux will run better. Also, you can bet that the Linux market share in this category will be much, much larger than in other hardware categories. On the EeePC that is proving to be true, and MS is struggling to keep Linux out.

            And, I imagine that development for the Sugar desktop and applications will go on, maybe even at a faster clip. This might have the opposite effect that you and others are thinking. You do NOT want to piss off a good programmer. They might step up the effort to show that they can do better than MS.
          • "However they won't now via OLPC"

            If they really care about the kids then why stop coding just because MS in now going to be a choice for this device? These kind of actions is why FOSS cant be taken seriously or more importantly, trusted.
          • Well, that was just one person. Just like we should not judge all closed

            source companies based on what one person says. But, he does have some valid points concerning the illegal behavior of MS, and also all of the bad things they have done that were borderline illegal. They basically have no shame. So, it would not be too surprising that some developers might at least want to make sure their works goes to help kids, and not to enrich a criminal organization like MS.
        • Define open source

          Question for you.

          If I develop a .Net application for the XP platform and release it and its source code,
          is it open source?

          The application is open source.
          The .Net runtime on XP is not, nor is the OS. But if I write the code to also target the Mono version of the runtime which runs on Linux, both of which are open source, does that make it a little bit open source?

          So, is the application open or not?
          Clue: There's plenty of open source application projects targeted for Windows. Just because the OS isn't open source does not effect the application.
          Developer communities are not restricted to a particular OS or development philosophy.

          • Unfortunately Open Source is not so clear-cut

            What a lot of us Linux users mean when we use the term Open Source is the GPL license. Yes, you could release a piece of Windows software as "open source" but it would be either unlicensed or the permissions to use so vague that the rest of the world can do anything with your code.
            I am not sure if Microsoft would let you release a program under the GPL (I might have to check). Under the GPL, your program would require anyone who modifies or uses your code to release their code as well.
          • Still not so clear cut...

            While you're right that the GPL is, overwhelmingly, the most widely used FOSS license though it is far from the only one. The Apache License, Mozilla License and BSD licenses are also licenses considered open source by OSI. So is Sun's CDDL for that matter.

            And there is a Microsoft license accepted by OSI that is GPL3 compatable though the GNU.org web site suggests strongly that you don't release a work with that license.

            Open Source or even GPL doesn't rely on the OS similarly being licensed. Lots of GPL software runs on Macs and a lot runs on Windows as well.

            The thing you can't do with GPL on Windows is make it reliant on a binary runtime of say, .NET or MS BASIC or any other closed runtime.

            Nor is the GPL viral in the sense that if you link to a closed source binary blob that somehow means that the copyright owner of that binary blob also has to distribute their code as GPL.


    • My money is with MS

      Till that happens, my Money is going to be with Microsoft.
      • RE: "My money is with MS"

        Modus operandi? ;)

    • No developers?

      [i]Can you imagine a Linux person developing applications for the kids. There is no challenge there - developing applications for 3rd world children is something that most Linux developers won't take up.[/i]

      So, you hold this belief that it won't happen, despite the fact that Open Source developers have [u]already[/u] developed and constructed a whole new UI?

      Do you seriously think that all Open Source developers must work for free, and no such beast exists as paid developers in the Open Source world? Much of the programming work for XO has already been sponsored (you can read that as "paid for") by Red Hat.

      Paid development for an Open Source platform isn't that hard to imagine. It is already reality.
    • They already did. What are you talking about?

      [B]Can you imagine a Linux person developing applications for the kids. [/B]

      Take it for a spin, it's a complete suite of learning tools. I honestly don't know where you got your misinformation, however, the reverse is true, there is nothing developed for the XP machine.


      As for developing on Sugar, no brainer too. Honestly, where did you get your information?

      [B]The Sugar Developer Zone is the one-stop-shop for content and resources you need to be a successful Sugar developer.[/B]

      From the kids themselves to the local teachers to the local community, it's all there for them.

      The bigger question, honestly, is who is going to write for the XP version. It's a dead end OS, and might not even be development compliant to regular XP?

      • " there is nothing developed for the XP machine"

        Sence it XP there are thousands of childerns programs that can run on the OS now, no real need to write anymore they can use what there now. All i ever see on this board is that "I will never upgrade to Vista,im sticking with XP" XP might be at the end of the road as far as being installed on new computers,but it will be far from dead.
        • So their future is to become "good consumers"?

          Aren't all those XP programs you're talking about [b]commercial[/b] programs? And designed to run on machines a lot more powerful than OLPCs? How many are also written in multiple non-English languages?

          Expecting the kids to buy these programs is a lot of additional expense for a platform that was supposed to be as cheap as possible, and no guarantee that the programs would work correctly anyway. Certainly no-one will be interested in [i]making[/i] them work, if they don't work already, and the kids won't be able to do it themselves without the source code.

          The power of education is to teach the kids to write their own programs that fulfill their actual needs. That power is lost on XP. (Do you think Visual Studio would run on an OLPC?)
          • Not really

            Don't know if you have a Fry's near you, but I know when going to the checkout, there are tons of under $10 kids software that have very low system requirements - most only requiring 200 mHz CPU (I don't remember any others specs, I'll have to look).